Former PM Bob Hawke has savaged Tony Abbott's government over their Gonski backflip, saying it represented the "ugly head" of conservatism.
The Abbott government's reshaping of Julia Gillard's education revolution signals "the worst of conservatism starting to show its ugly head again" according to former prime minister Bob Hawke.
In Perth to address a 50th anniversary celebration for Western Australia's union movement, Mr Hawke savaged the decision of Tony Abbott to shelve Labor's four-year Better Schools scheme, signed with the majority of states and territories.
And the former Labor PM said it was not a time for Labor to be "apologetic" about its history, but to tell it louder than ever in the face of a conservative government which intended to cast the unions as "the enemy".
On Sunday, Mr Abbott denied his government was backing away from a pre-election education commitment saying he was determined to "to keep the promise that we made, not the promise that some people thought we made".
Mr Hawke said it was clearly a broken promise.
"Julia Gillard made some mistakes of course, but one of the great contributions she made was to move forward the education revolution, to ensure that what Labor had started over the years in creating equality of opportunity should be strengthened," Mr Hawke said.
"What we are witnessing now at the national level is the blatant breaking of a promise that was made during the election.
"And it is the creation of a situation where we will again have an education system marked by discrimination ... where the capacity of a child to have his or her talents developed will depend too much on the size of the parental wallet."
Mr Hawke said he envisaged a country going backwards under Mr Abbott.
"The battles are not finished and we are now faced in this state and nationally with the conservatives who want again to go backwards," Mr Hawke said.
"They want to see this great trade union movement that has made this country what it is, they want to cast it as an enemy."
And Mr Hawke said that meant Labor should increase the volume.
"This is not a time for the Labor movement to be apologetic and go backwards. This is the time when we should be going on the front foot," Mr Hawke said.
"We should be out there telling our story and telling it strongly."
To the delight of the gathered audience, which included ACTU president Ged Kearney and WA's Labor leader Mark McGowan, the 83 year-old then led a rendition of all three verses of "Solidarity".